A new world is rapidly taking shape. Some have called it the fourth industrial revolution.
The first, which took shape in the last half of the 18th century and carried through into the first half of the 19th century, was driven by the rise of the steam engine and saw agrarian societies in America and Europe become more urban and industrialized. In the second, the introduction of electricity in the late 1800s and early 1900s made mass production possible. The third created a new digital world of personal computers, cell phones and the internet.
The fourth industrial revolution blurs the real and virtual worlds, with ubiquitous mobile computing, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, 3-D printing tools and the internet of things redefining technology’s role in our lives.
As these stunning and historic changes play out, businesses are equipping themselves to succeed by rethinking notions of how software — the bedrock of our new hyperdigital world — is developed.
Earlier development models were entirely manual — developers handwriting everything like pre-industrial artisans, and projects flowing downhill from one group to another in slow, cumbersome stages (a dreaded process known as the “waterfall” method).
Then, companies embraced internet technology but treated it as a way to support the business — a productivity tool to increase the efficiency of existing processes (marketing, product development, HR, etc.) — rather than as a way to actively drive the business. The core mission of software development teams was to help ensure smooth, efficient execution of these various business functions.
Now, however, our world of mobile devices, apps, social media and pervasive connectivity has made technology the primary interface between businesses and customers. Companies now must be prepared to interact with customers directly, in real time and from any device, so they’re rebuilding their core technology capabilities in a massive effort that the industry calls “digital transformation.”
Marc Andreessen’s 2011 essay about how “software is eating the world” has become memorable because it captured precisely what is happening. Some of the world’s most famously disruptive businesses (Amazon, Netflix, Uber) are built on software and delivered as online services.
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